Missed opportunities early. Untimely turnovers. Way too many penalties. Defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. The Miami Hurricanes fell to the Washington State Cougars, 20-14in fitting fashion the day after Christmas.
The only real surprises; an out-of-nowhere blizzard and a defense that managed to slow down a potent offense in the game’s second half. Outside of that, another missed opportunities-type situation for “The U” as one era closes and another begins.
The Canes and Cougars traded blows early in what was expected to be a shootout, ultimately stalled by inclimate weather weather and offensive incompetence on both sides of the ball.
Washington State rolled 75 yards over six plays, getting on the board two minutes in via a 31-yard touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Jamal Morrow. Miami answered with a 15-play, 69-yard drive that lasted almost seven minutes—Brad Kaaya finding Stacy Coley in the end zone on a 4th-and-Goal from the four-yard line.
From there, the Canes’ offense inexplicable stalled big-time against a Cougars’ squad not necessarily know for a world class defense.
Miami had a chance to take an early lead as the second quarter got underway, but a seven-play, 69-yard drive came to an ugly halt when receiver Rashawn Scott failed to haul in a pass that tattooed him between the No. 11 on his jersey—Washington State’s Peyton Pelluer hauling in the end zone interception.
The Cougars fumbled three plays later—recovered by Canes’ safety Deon Bush—but inexplicable offensive play calling cost Miami. Mark Walton ran for no gain on first down from the WSU 30-yard line, while Scott dropped another pass on second. A pass to Herb Waters was incomplete on 3rd-and-10 and the Canes netted one yard on a short pass to Walton on fourth down.
Great field possession on back-to-back drives and Miami walked away empty-handed.
Washington State scored twice more before halftime—a field goal after a 14-play, 58-yard drive where a first down holding call slowed the tempo—and an eight-play, 71 yard drive capped off by a 25-yard pass from Falk to Gabe Marks; a drive kept alive by a holding penalty on Artie Burns when a 3rd-and-9 pass fell incomplete.
The Canes’ ensuing possession came to a crashing halt when Kaaya was sacked on 3rd-and-7—after an incompletion to Scott and a three-yard gain to Waters on first down.
The Cougars tacked on an insult-to-injury field goal after taking possession with :26 left in the half; back-to-back penalties costing Miami 23 yards and setting up a gimme 25-yard field goal.
A scoreless third quarter saw Miami punting three times, while Washington State gave it over on downs twice and punted once. The Canes punted again :12 into the fourth quarter—a first downs sack setting up a 2nd-and-19 that Miami’s offense couldn’t overcome.
The previous drive was derailed by an illegal block on Trevor Darling; a sketchy call that had the Canes starting down 1st-and-25 and low-lighted by yet another huge Scott drop. When it was all said and done, Miami ran 13 offensive plays in the third quarter netting nine total yards.
The Canes got a quick spark early in the fourth quarter when Braxton Berrios picked up 60 yards on a 1st-and-10 run from the Miami 35-yard line. A play later, Walton punched in the five-yard touchdown and it was a 20-14 ballgame with a mini-blizzard underway in El Paso.
Uncharacteristically, Miami’s defense kept Washington State in check—scoreless in the second half and with four fourth quarter punts—but turnovers bit the Canes’ in the ass and cost them the game down the stretch.
A Walton fumble on 2nd-and-Goal from the Cougars’ five-yard line ended an eight-play, 70-yard drive that had shaved almost four minutes off the clock and was set to give the Canes momentum and their first lead. Scott also atoned for earlier miscues with receptions of 17, 36 and six yards on the drive.
The Canes defense seized the moment with some solid defense as the Cougars were pinned deep in their own territory—but after getting the ball back on the Washington State 28-yard line with 2:58 remaining, a cutesy play call cost Miami the game.
Offensive coordinator James Coley went gimmicky on first down one too many times; this time calling for a halfback pass from Joe Yearby that was intercepted, ending the Canes’ comeback bid.
Wide receiver Stacy Coley was wide open—and on a sunny day in South Florida, it would’ve arguably been a game-winning call. In the driving snow of West Texas; asking a glove-wearing running back to deliver, instead of putting the ball in the hands of a clutch quarterback—it was an absolute disaster. (Calling Yearby’s pass a “wounded duck” would be an insult to mallards worldwide.)
The Cougars took over seven seconds later and picked up two first down over four plays—Miami’s defense failing when the Canes’ needed one stop—setting up one final knee-down with half a minute remaining.
True to form, Miami’s mistakes and incompetence was again on display—nine penalties for 94 yards, as well as going a paltry 3-of-13 on third down. The Canes also turned it over three times the Cougars’ one miscue.
Even more disheartening; another showdown where three plays cost Miami three touchdowns in a six-point loss.
Scott’s end zone interception, Walton’s red zone fumble and Yearby’s errant pass were all Canes’ mistakes more than credit to the Cougars’ defense for making plays. Miami getting in its own way, mental errors and incompetence—it turned a two-touchdown victory into yet another postseason loss.
For those keeping score, the Canes haven’t won a bowl game since “surviving” Nevada in the lowly Micron PC Bowl back in 2006—the final game of the Larry Coker era. Since then, an inexplicable 0-6 in the post-season.
Randy Shannon fell to California (2008) and Wisconsin (2009) before interim head coach Jeff Stoutland was rolled in the 2010 Sun Bowl by Notre Dame. NCAA drama kept Al Golden and his Canes out of back-to-back bowl games in 2011 and 2012, before Miami was smacked down by Louisville (2013) and South Carolina (2014).
This time around it was Larry Scott leading the Canes to another setback; though this loss can be easily spread around. Mistakes. Incompetence. Bad calls. Worse execution.
A win was within reach and instead of stepping up and taking what was right in front of them, the Canes backslid yet again—true to form and perfectly in line with the past decade of failure.
All that said, the difference between 8-5 and 9-4 means virtually nothing in the wake of a coaching change and new era being ushered in by Mark Richt.
Victories on the recruiting trail and with the hiring of assistant coaches carries infinitely more weight than a win in the Who-Gives-A-Damn-Bowl; on the heels of yet another season where expectations fell grossly short.
Time to put this disappointing era out to pasture and to shift all focus towards what looks to be a bright future for the Richt-led Miami Hurricanes.